"Jewish Lives"Preview- The Spertus Institute screens 5 on Sundays

For the second year in a row, the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is hosting  a mini Jewish Film Festival, this year with the theme “Jewish Lives”; all films will be screened at 2 PM on Sundays in the Institute’s high-tech Feinberg Theater, 610 S. Michigan. Films will be introduced by scholars and  participants in their creation who will lead discussions after the screenings.

 The films and dates of screening with capsule summaries follow:

From "Finding Babel"

 -Sunday, January 29, “Finding Babel

 “Finding Babel”, 2015, directed by David Novack, is a biography/animated documentary, one hour and 28 minutes long, the dramatic story of theater professor Andrei Malaev-Babel’s grandfather, a subversive writer he never met. Isaac Babel was executed in 1940 by Stalin’s regime for challenging the ideology of The Soviet Union. Babel, born in 1894, was a Russian-Jewish journalist, playwright and author of short stories. His stories are acknowledged to be masterpieces of the craft, particularly “Red Cavalry” and “Tales of Odessa”.

 With this film, Malaev-Babel conducts a journey of love and investigation, travelling across France, Russia and Ukraine in order to piece together this important life. Director David Novack, commenting on the relevance of “Finding Babel”, has stated “In an age where conflict has once again risen in the battle-torn lands of Ukraine, where journalists are executed in a Paris office or beheaded in the Syrian desert, where artists ad writers face threats, arrest, or even torture in countless authoritarian nations, Babel’s pen draws a line of continuity through history.”

 The movie is a strong, powerful and insightful glimpse into a world that has only recently begun to change toward openness and tolerance of art and diversity of political opinion.  Starring Live Schreiber as Isaac Babel and featuring Yevgeny Yevtushenko, filled with both a panorama of locations imbued with a sense of history coupled with moving and vibrant interviews, this film is a confrontational  piece of work. It combines Babel’s writings with surreal animation and lyrical music to create a fantastic set of images of both transcendent art and turbulent historical events.

 Andrei Malaev-Babel introduced the film and led a post-show discussion,  joined by director David Novack for a Q&A with the audience. 


From "Big Sonia"

 - Sunday, February 5, “Big Sonia”

 “Big Sonia”, 2016, co-directed by the subject's grandaughter Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday, is a 93 minute  award-winning documentary/family-history biography of a very small lady with an indominatble spirit. She is one of the last living Holocaust survivors in Kansas City, where she runs a thriving tailoring business threatened with eviction in a dying mini-mall. She has also been an indefatigable inspirational public speaker, sharing her story of survival "With people afraid that their own traumas will define them". A heartwarming and up-close look at a woman determined to shape her own fate and help others do the same.

About Sonia Warshawski, The Huffington Post says “This spunky Holocaust survivor will keep telling her story until bullying and discrimination stop. The Hollywood Reporter declares Big Sonia “Engaging and thoughtful.”

 Sonia’s granddaughter, award-winning co-director Leah Warshawski, will introduce the film and lead a post-show discussion.


From "Morgenthau"

 -Sunday, February 12, “Morgenthau

  “Morgenthau”, 2010, directed by Max Leiwkowicz, is a  2 hour long  Emmy Award-winner for Best Historical Program. It tells the story of a great American family, the Morgenthaus, over the course of a century.  Through interviews wiith well-known historians, politicians and journalists, a portrait of 3 great public servants emerges on screeen. Henry Morgenthau Senior served as United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau Junior was the United States Secretary of Treasury under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt  and Robert M. Morgentha was District Attorney of New York County for 34 years.

The film profiles a significant and meaningful family legacy over the span of the 20th Century; they fought for social justice and human rights. These men pursued international action against the genocide of Armenians at the inception of WWI, made repeated and concerted efforts to rescue Jews from the Holocaust despite American political obstruction, and led a struggle to reduce both street crime and high-level white collar crime in New York City.

This in-depth looked, called "A fascinating retrospective", which reveals little-known facts  and sheds a deal of light on  three surpassingly important lives, includes interviews with Robert Morgenthau himself, President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, New York City Mayor Ed Koch, and journalist and author Tom Brokaw.

 Dr. Tony Michels, the George L. Mosse Professor of American Jewish History at University of Wisconsin–Madison, will introduce the film and lead a post-show discussion. Dr. Michels is an expert on activism in American Jewish life.


From " Hannah Cohen's Holy Communion"

 -Sunday, February 19, “Hannah Cohen’s Holy Communion” and “Torah Treasures and Curious Trash”

 “Hannah Cohen’s Holy Communion “, 2012, a 13 minute short film,  directed by Shimmy Marcus, and starring Lucy Sky Dunne, is a humorous and loving look at a 7 year old growing up in 1970's Dublin. Like all kids, she wants to fit in. Like all of us, she ends up feeling "different". Like all her Catholic peers, she wants to take part in Holy Communion. For Hannah, there is a catch- she IS different- she is Jewish. A charming "coming of age" movie deftly handled.

 “Torah Treasures and Curious Trash,” 2015, a 25 minute short documentary/biography directed by Paula Weiman-Kelman and Ricki Rosen, follows Jo Milgrom, an 87 year old Jewish feminist/artist/Judaic scholar who combines discarded objects found in Jerusalem garbage cans with used religious/ ritual paraphernalia she "rescues" from synagogues and funeral homes. Gluing them together, she creates dimensionalized montages of Jewish life which many feel challenge the division between sacred and profane. Described as a "rich visual portarait", the film is a though-provoking piece of work.


From "Torah Treasures"

Spertus Institute Curator of Collections Ionit Behar will introduce the films and lead a post-show discussion. Behar is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of Illinois, who regularly writes for print and online publications including ArtSlant and the Chicago Reader.

Tickets are $18 for each screening, with $8 discounted tickets for students. Advance tickets, which are recommended, can be purchased online at the Spertus website  or by phone at 312.322.1773. Discount parking is now available for $8 at Grant Park South Garage with Spertus validation.  


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